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The story of how I, a retired 45+ year resident of Tokyo, Japan from Johnstown PA, got into game development with Unity 3D, and why my slogan is: "35+ years of coding and only one game to show for it."

Theron Huffman, Blogger

February 17, 2015

6 Min Read

Well, that night was the start of a whole new direction in my life. I devoured the manuals that came with the Apple. One was the Apple II Reference Manual and it actually included detailed hardware specifications about what was where in memory, and how to directly access the memory with machine code and how to write short programs with the built-in mini assembler. The other manual was the Applesoft Basic Programming Reference Manual which was enough to get me started. These days computers don't come with that kind of detailed, low- level information about their hardware, nor with manuals about how to program.

From that point on, learning about computers and programming was all I wanted to do. 1st thing in the morning and last thing at night, sixteen hours a day when I wasn't working my miserable (to me) Eikaiwa job. Those days and nights just flew by without my even noticing the long hours I was spending reading those manuals and trying out the coding examples. Never did I imagine how much I'd like it. I was having a great time learning something new and something I thought was revolutionary.

And I was picking this programming stuff up really quickly.

One of my earliest memories of my 16-hour days teaching myself how to program was on a weekend. I was following an example on how to code a tone generator in AppleSoft Basic and I was well into it when a knock came to my door. I didn't want to be taken away from my new love of coding so I decided to quickly get rid of whoever was at my door. To my disappointment, It was my best friend, his wife, and one of the other Eikaiwa teachers at my school who had become my close drinking buddy. I told them I was busy and that they should have called beforehand. But I couldn't keep them from barging in as they were determined and well armed with a few small kegs of nama (fresh, raw?) beer.

Needless to say we all got into the drinking, my three intruding friends, my girlfriend, and a reluctant me. They were sitting on the couch and on the floor of my six-tatami "living room", with me sitting at the small wooden picnic table that I used as a computer stand. The room was so small that our knees were almost touching, and we had to crawl over each other to make frequent trips to the head. We all were getting royally drunk and having a great time, when they asked me about the Apple and what could be done with it.

As I was studying tone generation that day the only logical step was to show them what kind of sound I could generate. After fiddling around with the parameters in my Applesoft Basic program I was able to generate various sounds. My new expertise was an instant hit. And I got so good at it that the rest of the evening I was spontaneously and instantly punctuating silly remarks they made with a variety of fart sounds, and in our stupefied condition it was hilarious. At the end of the evening my friends departed, and left me with the weird feeling that I was now, in their eyes, the computer expert.

Continuing on with my study I soon worked through all the examples in the Apple II manuals and started following every coding example or tutorial I could find in the monthly Softalk magazine. I'd make two or three trips a month to Falcom, the Tachikawa pasocon and PC game shop where I bought my Apple, hoping that the latest issue of Softalk had finally made it to Japan. I also looked at the games that were on the shelf and talked to the guys at Falcom who also happened to be game developers and had already released a few successful Japanese fantasy/role playing games for the NEC 98 pasocon. They'd give me advice about programming and after a few months with my Apple II I asked them that if I developed a game would they'd sell it at their shop. They told me that I had bought the Apple only a few months ago and they didn't even want to talk to me about that until two or three years down the road.

That didn't didn't discourage me. I kept reading Softtalk, and Nibble (another rag devoted to Apple hobbyists) studying the examples in their pages, and even started trying to put my own ideas into code. Baby steps at first, but I was really assimilating the logic of programming and my code was getting longer and more complex by the day. Every chance I got I was writing code. On my ninty-minute commutes each way, to and from work, on my fourty-five minute lunch breaks, and during the sometimes short breaks that suddenly occurred because of last minute lesson cancellations. I loved my Eikaiwa students when they cancelled at the last minute.

A short time before I had bought the Apple my wife and I often played the well-known dice game of Yahtzee, Therefore the 1st coding project that I tried on my own was a simulation of dice. It wasn't graphical, it was just a short basic program that would generate five random integer numbers from one to six and display those five numbers on the used 13" TV screen that was connected to my Apple. Well that wasn't so hard and after a few more months of study I was confident enough to try writing a short simple game. I had already read some detailed articles in Softtalk and Nibble about writing games, and I ordered a few game programming books that was advertised in those magazines. I figured the best way to really learn about computers in general and programming specifically was to learn how to make games.

The game programming books that I had bought showed how to use bit-mapped graphics to create simple animation, and in those days it took a lot of work for even the simplest things. Just one frame of an animation required seven images, one separate image for each x position the frame might be located at across the seven bits of the Apple's bit-mapped display memory. The 8th bit was used to determine which colors to display.

And soon I had an idea for my 1st game. I'd decided to make an escape game. So I wrote my ideas on scratch paper, started putting those ideas into code with Applesoft Basic, and laboriously started to make the sprites for that first game by hand. Man. My game was going to be cool.

Well, in reality it was going to be more like a simple demo of my abilities than a real game.

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